3 Questions for Your Student Alcohol Misuse Program
A recent decision by the Massachusetts high court — following previous legal decisions by the Massachusetts high court and the California Supreme Court — has declared that Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect students when there are known safety risks on campus.
In an effort to address a potential shift away from universities and colleges serving as mere bystanders, here we consider three questions that campuses should be asking about their current student alcohol and drug misuse prevention efforts.
- Are you compliant with the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR Part 86)?
- Are your campus alcohol policies adequate to protect the health and safety of students?
- How effective is your alcohol misuse prevention training?
1. Are you compliant with the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR Part 86)?
EDGAR Part 86 mandates support the federal requirements of the Higher Education Act of 1965 as amended by the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA). When applying for federal assistance, EDGAR Part 86 requires that institutions of higher education (IHEs) certify that they have adopted a program to prevent the use of illicit drugs and alcohol misuse by students and employees.
Compliance with EDGAR Part 86 requires that IHEs annually provide each student and employee with a written statement outlining, among other things: standards of conduct; sanctions for violation of federal and state laws and campus policy; and health risks associated with alcohol and other drug use. Known as “annual notification”, many institutions mistakenly believe it to be synonymous with the Annual Security Report, a requirement of the Jeanne Clery Act. However, that is not the case. Further, IHEs must use a reliable method for distributing the annual notification, documenting that it has reached every student and employee.
Campuses must also prepare a biennial review report on the effectiveness of its AOD programs and policies and the consistency of its policy enforcement. This is not merely an inventory of programs, policies, and enforcement procedures. It must provide documentation on consistency of enforcement, and must note evidence-based interventions and recommendations for improvement, providing direction in the design of effective, comprehensive, prevention.
Title IX resolution agreements now include express mention of DFSCA compliance and biennial reviews are being requested as part of Clery Act and financial aid audits. For IHEs found in violation of Part 86, the Department of Education can stipulate an agreement designed to bring the institution into full compliance, including sanctions as severe as requiring repayment or loss of all federal funds, including student financial aid.
2. Are your campus alcohol policies adequate to protect the health and safety of students?
Over the years, research has highlighted the importance of policy and enforcement in setting behavioral standards. But until recent worldwide events, policy conversations on campus often lacked a true understanding of its vital role in creating safe, supportive, and just campus environments.
As with poorly implemented coronavirus policies, inadequate and inconsistently enforced alcohol and drug policies can create an atmosphere that potentially condones harmful, unsafe behavior, and reduces equal access to the benefits of a college education. In one ongoing study, researchers identified that for students of color, the role of alcohol on campus has tremendous implications for academic performance, self-esteem, sense of safety, and overall perception of the institution. Similar concerns exist for students in recovery and those who choose not to drink or don’t drink in high risk ways. If campuses don’t set policy practices that favor the rights of students who are NOT behaving in a way that is inconsistent with community expectations, they are not protecting the rights of all students.
Some administrators have questioned the effectiveness of alcohol misuse prevention policy on student behavior, but research has shown that in comparison to targeted and informational strategies, alcohol policy and enforcement is most strongly and consistently associated with reduced negative alcohol-related outcomes. Highlighting the need for coordinated efforts, further research has indicated that students attending college in states with more alcohol control policies are less likely to engage in “binge” drinking.
3. How effective is your alcohol misuse prevention training?
As mentioned above, the biennial review must include recommendations for improvements to be made to campus AOD programs and policies. But improvements cannot be determined without appropriate data monitoring and evaluation methods in place to assess for impact.
Assessment of current efforts should also include an assessment of the changing needs of college students, recognizing that as the behaviors, attitudes, and personality traits of college students have evolved, our prevention efforts must also adapt and transform. What was considered “best practice” three decades ago may no longer be the most effective. For example, with fewer students drinking, reinforcing the behaviors of the healthy majority takes on even greater importance, while assumptions about drinking and partying as typical college student behavior can support a dangerous and counterproductive narrative.
When considering your alcohol misuse and prevention efforts on campus, the answer to each of these questions should be a resounding “yes.”
Renewed attention to EDGAR, consistent enforcement of policies, and effective prevention are not just about ensuring compliance. Considering the role of alcohol in the myriad of health and safety threats to our students and campus community, it is also vital to student success and to mitigating foreseeable danger. Renowned expert on higher education law and policy, Peter Lake, speaks to the importance of balancing compliance and prevention in his book The Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University, stating, “The best defense in any lawsuit stemming from an alcohol-related incident is the institution’s commitment to use evidence-based practices and to evaluate those efforts.”1 Considering the changing legal landscape, effective student alcohol misuse prevention also provides the blueprint for a defense in the hopes it will never be needed.
Part of that blueprint can include programs like AlcoholEdu for College. Like many student alcohol misuse prevention programs, AlcoholEdu has also undergone rigorous and constant refinement over it’s twenty year history. AlcoholEdu for College and AlcoholEdu Ongoing are designed to be responsive to a socially conscious, increasingly diverse, and safety-minded generation of young people. It includes the required elements of the annual notification, along with the ability to collect an electronic signature to show that the information was distributed to all students, with surveys designed to provide key insights into student attitudes and behaviors to help inform additional program and policy efforts.